COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — While Columbus dropped its mask mandate Monday, hospitals throughout central Ohio are not so quick to ease pandemic restrictions.

All four major Columbus-area health systems — OhioHealth, Mount Carmel Health System, Nationwide Children’s and Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center — will continue to require patients, visitors, and staff to mask up, according to spokespersons from each health entity.

Dr. Mahdee Sobhanie, an infectious disease and internal medicine physician at Wexner Medical Center, said the decision to keep its mask mandate in place is largely out of concern for the safety of patients, many of whom have an “underlying illness” that makes them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

“When you’re caring for a patient, you work in very close proximity to those patients, so we definitely want to keep our patients safe, and even if there’s a little bit of COVID circulating, we do not want to see our patients getting sick in the hospital,” Sobhanie said.

Despite the Columbus City Council’s move to rescind the city’s mask mandate, Sobhanie said the next 6-12 months will serve as a benchmark to determine what Columbus residents “can and cannot do safely.”

And he said it’s always possible that a new variant of the virus could pop back up.

“Obviously, the vaccines have been great in terms of prevention of severe disease, but we’ll also have to make sure we monitor what’s circulating, if there’s a new variant, if the variant evades the vaccines,” he said.